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Family Talk: Babies should be celebrated every week

Nurturing, cuddling and singing to a baby are a few things that can help them thrive. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

Nurturing, cuddling and singing to a baby are a few things that can help them thrive. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

Celebrate Babies Week was earlier this month. I think about babies a lot because 1.) I'm going to be a grandpa, and 2.) I think about the future.

Babies are our future, and they are in danger. Some babies, to be sure, are in immediate physical danger, and these young ones deserve priority attention and protection. But all our Oklahoma babies are in danger, because, on the whole, Oklahoma is not prioritizing babies and children.

We Oklahomans do very well in acute crises, like responding to a tornado, but we do not do so well with chronic, long-term and less obvious crises, like the ones now facing Oklahoma babies. Consider this:

• 58 percent of Oklahoma children entering foster care are younger than 5.

• 46 percent of Oklahoma children who are confirmed victims of maltreatment are younger than 4.

• The state had the fourth-highest infant mortality rate in the country from 2012 to 2014.

If these stats caused a tornado siren to go off, we'd pay attention, but, instead, these are the mostly unseen, unnoticed danger signals of trouble ahead for our babies and our state.

What to do? The focus for Celebrate Babies Week is to help people C-O-N-N-E-C-T with babies. Here's how:

Calm: Babies are dependent on you, so you need to be calm, especially when they're not. When you feel your temperature rising with the cries and demands of a baby, step out of the room for a moment to calm yourself.

One-on-one time: It's extremely important to bond with babies. They need and desire personal interaction. Don't just set toys in front of them or place them in front of a television.

Nurture: This is defined as “caring and encouraging growth and development.” Babies learn a lot in a short amount of time. Encourage that growth and keep their brains and senses alert to learning experiences.

Nursery Rhymes: Julie Wylie says, “Singing and dancing to nursery rhymes promote listening, timing (being able to move, sing and play in time with others), expression and playful interaction. Rhythmic patterning lays the foundation for language.” http://juliewyliemusic.com/value-nursery-rhymes/

Eye Contact: Expressive eye contact is absolutely essential. Bridget Coila reports, “Eye contact indicates that your baby's neurological development is progressing normally. A baby who makes eye contact is showing that she knows what a face is and understands that facial expressions can indicate how a person is feeling. It also makes bonding stronger between parent and child. (Go to Livestrong.com and search for When Do Infants Make Eye Contact?)

Cuddle: Nurses and doctors in neonatal intensive care units report that cuddling has an immediate impact, causing blood oxygenation to climb, meaning the baby is relaxed and is breathing deeper. Cuddling leads to better tolerance of pain, more stable body temperature and stronger vital signs. It can have the same positive effect on babies outside of ICU.

Touch: Dr. Ann Bigelow, professor and researcher, told Scientific American magazine, ”Skin to skin contact (with babies) is especially important in the newborn period. It helps calm babies. They cry less and sleep more. And some studies show it facilitates brain development, probably because they are calmer and sleep better.”

So, there's your recipe to CONNECT and a tangible way you can positively influence the future faced by Oklahoma babies!

Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at jpriest@sunbeamfamilyservices.org.

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›

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